(first posted 2/15/2012) For all middle children life is hard. And no life is harder in the automotive world than the middle model or trim level. The most difficult life to live is between the bargain entry point and the lap of luxury in any postwar line up. And in a middle brand family, the pressure to thrive is even harder to survive.
Like Chrysler, Buick was pretty schizophrenic with its series designations and how they were marketed. In 1959 all of the tradition designations dating from the late 1930s were thrown out the door along with bulbous and baroque styling for LeSabre (Buick for the Broke) Electra/Electra 225 (Buick for the Bank President/the slightly flashier bank president).
But the Invicta, although brilliantly named, got lost in between those two dichotomies. Although the Century was particularly cast well as the bankers hot rod, something got lost in the translation of ever faster and more luxurious Body By Fisher creations.
Like Chrysler’s Saratoga, the brilliant name eventually got sidelined for another nameplate that had more of a mystique. While Chrysler did a rather rare name debasement of by adding the 300 Sport series, Buick brought out its own B-body bomber for 1962 in the form of the Wildcat coupe.
Long a show car name for Buick in the 1950s, the name was dropped on a rather undistinguished 2 door hardtop with bucket seats, and didn’t sell as well as the other two specialty B-Body coupes, the Grand Prix and the Starfire. So for the encore season it followed the example the 300 Sport set.
Sprouting a 4 Door hardtop sedan for 1963, the Wildcat ate the Invicta for breakfast, leaving only the den mother of a wagon for one more season. And it also opened a major mixed message. Were these supposed to be exotic equivalents of the newly glammed up Starfire and Grand Prix? Or were they just Buick’s latest middle child searching for an identity.
For one the Wildcat didn’t share the B-Special concave coupe roof of the Grand Prix and Starfire, making it seem like an overtrimmed equivalent of a Super Eighty Eight or…. well, what was the Star Chief’s purpose again? I know it was the whole lotta Pontiac for a little less than a Bonneville, but who really bought them?
When you question what the Wildcat was doing, you really have to question those other two middle children at Pontiac and Oldsmobile, or for that matter the further decontented Bel-Air at Chevrolet. They all seemed awash in the splintering market of 1963, flush with intermediates and luxury compacts.
But the Wildcat did stay on message best. While the other 3 were relics of 3 tiered marketing of the same body shell in escalating trim/power or length configurations best left to the 1950s, the Wildcat clarified it’s role as Buick’s Hot Rod better than the misunderstood Invicta did. Outwardly dressed with more war paint than its predecessor, it actually looked ready to fight. Fight a war that really didn’t exist anymore.
By 1963, the Bucket Seat full size bomb attack had obliterated its own market. No true survivors or winners save the Impala SS really emerged as long term victors. And with more specialized coupe models like Buick’s own Riviera, the only way to survive was to figure out a new strategy.
I don’t know if the 1965-70 Wildcat’s sporty yet zaftig ways (and essential replacement of what used to be the Buick Super role) was all that much more focused. The middle step was banished to the history books at Oldsmobile by 1969, which left Chevrolet and Pontiac continued to play musical chairs along with Buick, killing the cat with the Centurion, which had a brief life as warrior through 1973.
I’m a dog person, and I’m sure most Buick buyers were too. But for a short period of time, the Wildcat made an interesting argument to consider being a crazy Cat-Buick person.